Food fraud: are obesogens preventing weight loss?

Food fraud: are obesogens preventing weight loss?
© iStock/vadimguzhva

Although excessive consumption of unhealthy food is the common cause of obesity, scientists are exploring the role chemicals play in obesity, specifically obesogens.

More than 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in the United States alone. Some of these chemicals are toxic to animals and humans, and some interfere with how the body’s hormones function. The chemicals that impact hormones are called endocrine disrupting chemicals, or endocrine disruptors, and are linked to a variety of diseases. Some endocrine disruptors have been shown to be obesogens, a chemical involved in weight gain, and may be contributing to the obesity problem.

According to researchers from Harvard University, USA, the chemicals found in plastic containers and cookware links to weight gain. Researchers found that individuals with the highest levels of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), gained the most weight. PFAS are chemicals used to make products more stain-resistant, waterproof, or non-stick and falls into the category of obesogens.

Findings from this study showed people with higher levels of PFAS in their bloodstream also have a lower resting metabolic rate and burn fewer calories throughout the day.

Obesogens delayered

With this issue receiving more and more light, scientists are exploring the role that chemicals may play in weight gain and obesity.

Unhealthy diet and lack of exercise are the main factors that contribute to weight gain and obesity, but according to National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, studies have found that obesogens may also be a key player in obesity.

The chemicals also may change how an individual’s fat cells develop, meaning they may increase fat storage capacity or the number of fat cells.

Obesogens may also make it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight, by changing how the body regulates feelings of hunger and fullness or increasing the effects of high fat and high sugar diets.


Although obesogens do not directly cause obesity, they have the possibility of increasing the sensitivity, or susceptibility, to gaining weight, especially when the exposures occur during development.

The most sensitive time for exposure to such chemicals is during early development, as a foetus or during the early years of life — when the body’s weight control mechanisms are being developed.

Obesity is a chronic disease itself, but other diseases or disorders that develop as a result of, or in combination with obesity, such as cardiovascular disease, liver disease, diabetes, arthritis, and others, also can contribute to health problems associated with weight gain.

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